Friday, 10 July 2015

Day 4 - Outrunning the Dragon!

The night of Day 3 had been a rather interrupted one for me. I had been very lucky so far in that I hadn't had to share my corner of the tent with anyone, but unfortunately there had been a rather unpleasant disagreement in another tent. This meant that a rather upset lady suddenly joined me in my portion of the tent. I felt really sorry for her, as I thought that she had born the brunt of someone else's bad temper, but selfishly I have to say it wasn't the most fun thing for me to do - get up again after I'd gone to bed, and clear a space for someone to else to try to sleep. She was probably too upset by events to sleep well, and hence I had a disturbed night.

Checking out the map

My eyes been slightly weepy overnight and so when I caught sight of myself in the small mirror in a portaloo in the morning, it wasn't a pretty sight. The lack of sleep had given me rather puffy eyes but they did improve as I wandered around the campsite, had breakfast etc. I had some added time for them to settle as Sabrina was took a bit longer than me to pack up and get ready for the off. We had enjoyed teaming up and so arranged to start together again (in fact, a friend who had been following the race sent me a message to say that as our trackers had been so close to each other for most of the week, he almost expected to see her on his doorstep with me when I dropped in on my way back from Wales!!).
Always dropped off the start...
The map on Day 4 looked absolutely huge (and there was an added insert of the bottom part of the map), but luckily some of this was due to the fact that a different scale was being used. It took a little while to get "your eye in" to the different scale, and the fact that permissive paths, certain features etc were marked in a different colour, but again, by the time we'd gained the first checkpoint, we'd almost forgotten that we'd been using other maps/scales! There was very little flat running at the start of the day to get us warmed us, so we were all too soon working our lungs and legs ascending the first hill. Sabrina and I complemented each other with our strengths and weaknesses - my running pace was faster, and my fast walking pace was only just slower than her running pace so I could lead the more runnable sections, but she was better than me on the rough tussocky ground, and much more confident in her navigation than I was, so tended to take the lead there.
It was interesting to be passing and be passed by several runners over the next few stages between CPs as we were probably all of a similar speed, though Sabrina and I tended to find that we could maintain our speed over the day while others did tend to fade a bit, so we weren't fazed by this. I had noticed a lady (the day before) that ran with her map tucked away in her bag, which made me wonder how well she knew the terrain if she wasn't having to try to read a map as well as run, but this time I noticed that she was running with 2 guys who did the navigation, so she just had to follow/go where she was told. That might suit some people, but I'm never good at doing what I'm told and like to be able to make my own mind up (admittedly that is sometimes to my detriment!).
We justified our interesting navigational error that morning with the fact that the day was due to be shorter than the previous one, so we "just wanted to check out another hillside", but we clearly weren't the only people to make that slight mistake. It just meant a longer trek through the rough stuff to join a section of road (and then we got the added boost of passing those people who had come to the road by a more direct route).....and we're sticking with that argument.
I found it hard to judge my pace on the road so that we could stay together and chat, but the best way seemed to be to let Sabrina get slightly ahead of me by me going along at my "yomping" pace and then breaking into a run to catch up and move slightly ahead. The slower pace meant that I could take on food and drink more easily, and although I discovered that I was running at a decent pace when I did run, my legs were quite happy to NOT run for certain periods!!
Into the hills - credit Ian Corless
We linked up with Dave on this section (he and Sabrina are in the same adventure racing team) as he appeared to be cutting off the road and up the hillside at the same place as us (which was reassuring as we knew that he is a good orienteer) - there was a bit of "to and fro action" as we picked our routes between the next few checkpoints, but Dave made sure that we arrived safely into the support point with a nice run downhill on a small trod through bracken, then ducking low-lying branches along a fence on a permissive path (the support point was down in the bottom of a valley).
Jonny had been there refuelling when we arrived and I suddenly looked up from my "trough" food to see him and Dave heading off on the next leg. I scurried after them so we could have a bit of a chat and gossip as we ran along, with Sabrina quickly catching up as she clocked the departure. We separated into 2 pairs (the girls being faster than the boys) as we hit some tarmac and then became rather strung out as it was hot trying to run uphill in the sun.
Not exactly a flat profile!
We had been advised of a quad bike track along one of the hill ridges so cut off the path to try to find it, but it wasn't the easiest to spot amongst the strength-sapping tussocks. Eventually we got it, and looking back at where others were relative to when we left the path, it looked like we had made up a small amount of time, though not as much as we had hoped. As we descended through what was marked on the map as a forest (there had actually been a lot of tree felling so it appeared slightly different to how we had imagined it to be), we found ourselves running behind 4 people that we recognised - the Swedish pair (who were running down a road parallel but across a stream from us) and Owen/Jonas (who appeared to be on the same route as us).
Interestingly enough the Swedes turned right at the bottom of the forest, whereas the rest of us opted to go left. Both routes started on our road, but ours then wound up a valley to cut through a pass off road, whereas the Swedes were going to run slightly further, but all on tarmac. I had vaguely thought about the full road option but Shane had advised against it, even knowing how much more comfortable I was on tarmac than streambeds and such like. This could prove interesting (results-wise), as although I was currently leading the Swedes in the overall results, Sabrina was just behind them and so quite keen to finish ahead of them! The boys kept looking back as if they were worried that I was going to catch them up and fly by (as people kept joking to that effect whenever road, but I was determined to stick with Sabrina and encourage her, as she had for me on previous days.
The boys must have been tiring as we gradually closed the gap down on the road and caught them up at the end of it, but we did find one thing rather odd. They were about to go up a private road (out of bounds) rather than the permissive path, so we called them back, and also checked that Jonas was OK when he took a tumble behind us,  but when we went up the wrong side of a fence and so ended up parallel to the path we wanted to be on, they didn't alert us and just kept going up the correct path themselves - to give them the benefit of the doubt, we decided that they were just hot and tired rather than amusing themselves by watching us go astray.
A huge map for a long day!
They remained ahead of us for the whole of that off-road section, but Sabrina suggested I chase them down on the final road stretch. We did pass a gentleman for what must have been the 4th timeof the day, so we wondered how he kept appearing ahead of us without ever passing us. It turned out that he knew the best route and every shortcut possible as not only had he run the race 3 years previously, but he had also reccied those very hills many times. That made me feel better, as I wondered if I'd been having absence attacks and missing him each time he overtook us.
The last part of the day's run had been referred to as a "10K timetrial" on several occasions and I felt rather under pressure to run it fast, as so many people had made comments about how much I would be looking forward to it - while most people dreaded the very thought of it (who would want to run a road 10K after a 30mile hilly multi-terrain warmup?). Although I had stuck with Sabrina up to that point, she kindly said she didn't mind if I went ahead and stretched out my legs, especially if I caught the boys up.
The marshal (Chris) at the road when we climbed over the barrier onto the tarmac didn't half put me under extra pressure by calling "3....2.....1.....Go!". My heart sank as I realised that it wasn't a nice downhill 10K run, as the road wound up ahead of us out of sight. Still, I didn't want to disappoint (myself or anyone else) so off I set - though it would've been better in dry road shoes....and without having to carry my backpack!
Chewing the fat in camp/listening to important briefings
I soon overhauled Jonas and then also passed Owen before reaching the first (blind) summit. looking back, I could see that the Swedes had now made it onto this section, so I frantically tried to signal back to Sabrina that they were there, but behind her now. I believe there was a short off road that cut out one of the switchbacks, but I decided to stick with the road and try to maintain my stride. Whoever built the road was trying to throw me off, as there were cattle grids to negotiate (and I must have been the only person to meet a car coming the opposite direction at both cattle grids and so have to slow down for them to cross - the road was empty apart from these few cars!!) and a few extra climbs thrown in for good measure. However, I reminded myself that I had run every step at comrades including all the hills, so I could certainly make the effort now. The road did then become a long downhill run and I even got some 7 minute miles (or so) in. The campsite was quite well hidden amongst the trees, so whenever the road flattened out, I though I must be there....only to spy another corner! I was so glad to spot the tents and the finish straight (as running at a faster pace on the road had certainly got my gut working) and ran in with a smile on my face. Some of the smile might have been due to Beth and Lizzie (who had already finished and so were sitting in the food tent right by the finish dibbers) telling me that we had apples as a treat that day (I had been craving fresh fruit and veg all week!)!

With Lizzie at camp

My first comment to Shane when I finished was "yeay....41 minutes for the road section....not bad!!" though I wasn't sure of the exact distance we'd run....but then my next thought was that I needed to keep going to find the portaloos (I didn't want to revisit Comrades that vividly). It was nice to then be able to cheer Owen, Jonas and Sabrina in as they crossed the line (still ahead of the Swedes!) - and (when comparing times with Sabrina afterwards) to realise that I'd actually made up 11 minutes on that road section (and finished 10th overall on Day 4 - with the "timetrial record") - happy days!!!!

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